The hi-tech industry, Israel’s main engine of economic growth presents unmatched opportunities for upward mobility – but the Bedouin society has been largely excluded from this sector to-date.
The Negev Bedouin community is, by far, Israel’s poorest and most disadvantaged population. Per capita income is 50% of the rest of Arab society, and just 22% of the national average. Employment and poverty rates are among the highest in the country, and all Bedouin cities and villages are rated lowest on national socioeconomic rankings. The hi-tech industry, Israel’s main engine of economic growth, presents unmatched opportunities for upward mobility, but the Bedouin society has been largely excluded from this sector, with only a few dozen employees to-date. In fact, the Bedouin community is almost completely unaware of what hi-tech is in the first place, let alone the economic benefits it can provide.
Barriers to entry include:
- Top performing Bedouin students to pursue traditional career tracks like medicine and pharmacy
- Educational outcomes are not competitive for hi-tech, including low attendance and high dropout rates
- Lack of personal networks and connections, especially compared to their Jewish counterparts
- Disbelief that the industry will embrace them
This reality means that the Bedouin community is largely detached from access to economic opportunity and social mobility in Israel. Government support to the Bedouin community has primarily focused on low-income employment and education initiatives. In 2017, less than 30 Bedouin college and university students studied STEM subjects, or science, technology, engineering, and math. In its exclusion from the tech industry, the Bedouin community misses an immense opportunity for economic growth, diversity of professional trajectories, increase in per capita income, and even communal financial sustainability.
Siraj aims to catalyze and lead the entrance of Bedouin engineers into the Israeli tech industry. We take a holistic approach to achieving this aim, which includes:
- building awareness among Bedouin community members and schools about the tech industry
- encouraging and offering additional technical and soft-skills training to Bedouin college and university graduates
- recruitment of candidates to work in the industry.
Siraj is set apart from other initiatives in the space of workforce integration and development, because it emphasizes the importance of creating a demand for Bedouin talent by establishing a social business, the tech company Siraj Technologies Ltd., that will primarily hire Bedouin engineers. By definition the Siraj NGO will always hold majority ownership of Siraj Ltd.